Batu Caves, Kuala Lumpur
For centuries, caves in Southeast Asia have been used as places of worship, particularly by Hindus and Buddhists. Perhaps the most famous Cave Temple in Malaysia (and even in Southeast Asia) is the cave temple at Batu Caves on the northern outskirts of Kuala Lumpur. This is a Hindu cave temple complex that has become particularly famouse for the annual Thaipussam Festival. The caves are developed in a large isolated limestone hill (karst tower) which is composed of marble (metamorphosed limestone) that is included in the Kuala Lumpur Limestone Formation of Silurian Age (444 - 416 million years ago). The age of the caves themselves within this ancient limestone is not precisely known but may be many millions of years.
Inside Cathedral Cave, the the main Cave Temple at Batu Caves
View from upper temple cave Monkeys are common and provide entertainment for visitors
Batu Caves is a particularly famous site for celebrating the annual Hindu Thaipusam Festival. Thaipusam is a Hindu festival celebrated mostly by the Tamil community on the full moon in the Tamil month of Thai (Jan/Feb). Pusam refers to a star that is at its highest point during the festival. The festival commemorates both the birthday of Lord Murugan (also Subramaniam), the youngest son of Shiva and Parvati, and the occasion when Parvati gave Murugan a vel (lance) so he could vanquish the evil demon Soorapadman. Devotees shave their heads and undertake a pilgrimage along a set route while engaging in various acts of devotion, notably carrying various types of kavadi (burdens). At its simplest this may entail carrying a pot of milk, but mortification of the flesh by piercing the skin, tongue or cheeks with vel skewers is also common.
The most spectacular practice is the vel kavadi, essentially a portable altar up to two meters tall, decorated with peacock feathers and attached to the devotee through 108 vels pierced into the skin on the chest and back. Other spectacular practices include pulling carts with hooks in the back and walking on huge knives (parangs).
Early morning cleansing ceremony at Thaipusam.
In addition to the main temple cave there are other caves developed in the Batu Caves limestone Hill. The Dark Cave (Gua Gelap) adjacent to the main temple cave is the most important and has recently been re-opened for tourist visits for a modest charge. Helmets and lights are provided and cave visits are only possible with a guide.